Budget 2018 – a look behind the headlines

Tracy Harrison, Deputy Chief Executive, Northern Housing Consortium

Last month’s Budget delivered some welcome certainties and a shift in sentiment from government towards working with the social housing sector as part of the solution. The one clear certainty was the commitment to the national supply target of 300,000 new builds a year, this was despite the latest ONS household projections which threatened to derail house-building targets. Less certain was any commitment to public sector investment with the tantalising possibility of austerity ‘coming to an end’.

The Budget confirmed that the Housing Revenue Account cap was to be abolished on 29 October

The abolition of the Housing Revenue Account cap was the signal that councils can get back into the house-building business. For the first time in many years, councils will be able to prepare longer-term HRA business plans.  Also, longer term funding for housing associations gives providers certainty in their business planning. In the previous few years the absence of a rent settlement and the LHA cap had contributed towards preventing this longer-term planning.

This marks a new and welcome partnership between government and the social housing sector to build social housing.

But it also sets a challenge to councils to bring forward home-building plans. Councils may have lost dedicated housing functions and have fewer specialist staff with housing services being absorbed into place-based directorates. For many, skills and capacity shortage could be a principal barrier to growth in direct local authority delivery.

Investment to deliver more homes, including an extra £500m for the Housing Infrastructure Fund

Everyone can agree that it is imperative that more homes are built in the right places. It was therefore welcome that the Budget announced an extra £500m to pay for housing infrastructure. But behind the headlines, is the detail that 80% of funding across all Government schemes for house building will be going to areas of “high affordability.” This will not deliver the vision of a housing market that works for everyone.

Support for Homeownership

The Budget confirmed a new Help to Buy Equity Loan Scheme and extended Stamp Duty Land Tax relief to all qualifying shared ownership properties (with a launch of a Call for Evidence on Private Shared Ownership).  It also launched a consultation on new permitted development rights to allow upwards extensions above commercial premises and to allow commercial buildings to be demolished and replaced with homes (Planning reform: supporting the high street and increasing the delivery of new homes).

There is a concern that policies continue to underline the prevailing view that social housing is a stepping stone to home ownership, rather than recognising that it is the right choice for some, and this doesn’t help with stigmatising social housing tenants.

There are estates in the North which almost certainly meet the definition of affordable but fall so far below modern standards there is, not just a stigmatising of residents, but a loss of hope.  Residents either put up with this, or move to the far less stable private rented sector.  There they find tenancies that could be less stable and quality which is in many cases below decent standards with 354,000 private rented sector properties being unfit in the North – see The Hidden costs of Poor Quality Housing in the North.

A combination of new council house building and investment in quality of existing stock will, over time, create capacity to deliver as much as 20-30,000 social rented homes a year. Sir Oliver Letwin’s review of build out rates (published on the day of Budget) has also confirmed that delivering a wider range of tenures on sites improves the rate at which new homes are built – another reason to justify increased public investment on social rented housing.

Guest Blog – Cloud – it isn’t how big it is, it’s what you do with it that counts

Our lives today are dominated by technology, from smartphones, to social networks, to the IoT, all of which we are now using daily in our places of work – and housing providers are no exception to this trend. As a result, hardly a day goes by without a mention of the need to transform digitally and integrate these technologies. This drive towards digital transformation has been a key factor in the increase in cloud adoption as housing providers look to be more efficient and enable a better experience for both workers, and service users.

However, while initially, cloud computing seemed a simple solution for organisations, it has gradually become more of ‘a complex beast’ that is proving hard to tame. This complexity is only going to increase, with Gartner predicting that more than $1.3tn in IT spending will be directly or indirectly affected by the shift to cloud by 2022. So, despite widespread adoption of cloud, housing providers must ensure investments in cloud are optimised by ensuring they are closely managing their IT infrastructure.

Cloud for clouds sake

The benefit of cloud is that it allows housing providers the ability to innovate more quickly, while also providing a more effective work platform that ultimately saves money. Cloud offers an infrastructure that empowers organisations to have greater agility through the speed at which IT resources can be provisioned. However, it can be a tricky path due to the number of processes that must be followed for successful cloud adoption.

Thomas Trappler, director of software licensing at the University of California, LA, points out that licensing fees are one area that can become increasingly complicated if organisations are unaware of the compliance requirements of cloud. Licensing conditions change depending whether software is on premise or in cloud, and organisations are often aren’t aware of the rules. This means housing providers may find themselves non-compliant without realising there is an issue – highlighting that simply adopting cloud without a plan or understanding of its impact, becomes an exercise in having cloud for clouds sake.

To combat this issue, when taking on the cloud housing providers need to firstly build a robust roadmap that covers every component from implementation to use to ongoing management.  This means ensuring that the IT department retains real-time visibility into cloud services running across the organisation. Secondly, this process cannot end after adoption, providers must continue managing and monitoring their cloud environment post-adoption to avoid exceeding consumption estimates and so spending more on unbudgeted cloud resource.

COMPAREX UK’s managed cloud services have been helping housing providers by pinpointing exactly where help is needed when it comes to cloud – from choosing the most appropriate vendor to ensuring the right cloud licenses are in place. You can find out more here.

Guest Blog – Growing older is a gift

Yvonne Castle, new NHC Board member and Chief Executive of Johnnie Johnson Housing

When we talk about our pending crisis of an increasing population in the UK due to ageing we think about: pressure on the NHS; woeful Residential Care (at Southern Cross, winterbourne view and more recently Allied Healthcare), the scale of dementia issues, unmet need and declining real terms funding, the impact of the national living wage, we think about our families and we think about us!

It’s true – where would we want to live when we’re in our 80’s?  What will we be doing?  Will we be well?  Or will we be deteriorating? How will technology help?


Why don’t we look positively at ageing?  That’s where we need to start.  We need a culture that embraces ageing and the opportunity that it provides.

Apparently, we need less sleep as we get older and so that’s more time to enjoy life! We see the world through ‘rose coloured glasses’ as brains are wired to remember the good times. As we age, we become more optimistic – we ‘zone in’ on happy faces and we can build more social connections.

There is lots of support out there – ‘social prescribing’, men in sheds, relaxation classes to manage stress, apps like ‘Headspace’ and ‘Calm’ can help us to self-manage focus and de-stress too! We are more self-aware and look to creating our legacy by helping others and passing on our wisdom and experience, if you’ve grandchildren – you can enjoy them as if they were your own, but without the frustration… and you have more free time!

So, this is a different way of looking at it for ourselves, for our families, and most importantly for those people that rely on us day-in-day-out to keep them housed, to keep them safe and healthy.

There is some fantastic work out there that we all can do, get involved in, to aspire to, to build and to provide. Here’s a few small examples:

  • New Independent Living Homes and new Care Homes are modern, bright, airy. They encourage small huddles so that people can engage in conversation and activities as they choose. They have playgrounds – both for adults and for children. Local amenities help encourage activity and contact with communities. And communities come in to keep you in touch.
  • Modern, digital telecare equipment means you’re free to go wherever you choose, in the knowledge that help is just a call away and GPS means that a support team knows exactly where you are, it’s also becoming more aspirational and less medical.
  • Telehealth sensors and monitors tell you how you’re doing on an hourly and daily basis helping you to make some choices about your life habits – being proactive so you can avoid that trip to hospital.
  • It is really easy for remote family members to keep in touch and get reassurance that all is ok with you.
  • “Invisible Adaptations” can be fitted when you’re young and used as required – you wouldn’t know that these could help you in and outside of your home – no longer do they scream out “I’m vulnerable and need help”!
  • In an era of digital when we need help, we only need to make one call; our records are shared, and you don’t have to tell your story twice – everyone knows what you need – QUICKLY!
  • Alexa’s a great friend – she’ll tell you about the weather, set you reminders, play your favourite music, order your shopping, book all the appointments you need and help you to learn a new language.

So, what are we waiting for? Growing older is a gift!

As a business we need to make sure that we treat everyone as an individual, with different needs at different times.  No one person responds the same. So, let’s get this culture right in our organisations.  Let’s manage the risks of all the negatives and let’s turn ageing into a positive experience. We’re building new homes, we’re providing services, we’re creating communities – so let’s just check.  Will it work for YOU in the future?”

Guest Blog – Flood Action Campaign 2018/19

Please help the Environment Agency by supporting their Flood Action Campaign which will launch between now and the end of the year in their next ‘torrential rain window’.  The aim of the campaign is to target and educate 18-30 year olds about flooding and what they can do to minimise damage and any related emotional fall out and ultimately get them to sign up to flood alerts.

The key ask:

To support this year’s flood action campaign we are asking you to record a video and share it on your social media channels, telling us #justonething that you would save in a flood. A childhood toy? A favourite lipstick? A VR headset? Designer shoes? What would you save and why?

Flood Action Campaign – background

The Environment Agency runs an annual campaign to encourage people to find out if they are at risk of flooding, and to know what to do to protect themselves and their property in a flood.

The campaign is aimed at young people aged 18 to 34.

The campaign runs for a week during the winter – when rain or flooding is on the news agenda- as this is when people are most likely to take notice of the information and take flooding seriously. We don’t know much in advance when this week will be, so the campaign is ready to go from 1st October, but can be deployed during any suitable wet week.

Some key facts:

  • People aged 18-34 are the least likely to know if the area where they live is at risk of flooding.
  • They are least likely to know how to protect their property, or where to go for information.
  • They are most likely to take life endangering risks during flooding – and most at risk of dying during a flood.
  • The mental health impacts of flooding can last for two years or more after flooding has happened. Depression, anxiety and PTSD can affect up to a third of people who have been flooded.
  • BUT – taking steps to prepare for flooding, and knowing what to do in a flood can significantly reduce the damages to your home and possessions, and reduce the likelihood of suffering from these mental health impacts in the future.


Flooding can ruin all your stuff.

Flood water is contaminated with sewage, chemicals and other toxic substances – so if your things have been touched by flood water, they have to be thrown away.

Seeing all your things chucked in a skip is devastating and traumatic. According to research, people who have been flooded can still be suffering from the mental health impacts – such as depression, anxiety and PTSD – two years after the event.

To encourage people aged 18-34 to take steps to prepare for flooding, we are asking people to record a video and share it on their social media channels, telling us #justonething that you would save in a flood. A childhood toy? A favourite lipstick? A VR headset? Designer shoes? What would you save and why?

When should I record my video?

Do it as soon as you can and hang on to it. The Flood Action Campaign could run any time from mid-October 2018. So be ready to post it when the campaign goes live.

Does it have to be a video?

No, not if that’s not your thing. You could do a flat lay or selfie picture on Instagram with the one item you would save in a flood, under the hashtag #JustOneThing and #PrepareActSurvive.  Use a caption to ask your friends/followers what they would save in a flood and encourage them to post their own pictures. Or do an Instagram/snapchat story – just a short interaction on what you’d save in a flood with a swipe up link to information on how to prepare for and protect yourself in a flood.

When should I share it on social media?

The campaign will run when we have some wet weather, and rain or flooding is on the news agenda. This could be anytime from October – but we’ll be letting people know when to post their stuff.

What links and hashtags should I use?

#JustOneThing and #PrepareActSurvive and make sure to link through to this page: https://flood-warning-information.service.gov.uk/what-to-do-in-a-flood this is so important in helping people to know what to do in a flood, and keeping them safe.

Why should I bother?

By helping people to know what to do in a flood, you could ultimately save their life.  You could prevent them from having their precious things ruined by flood waters and you could reduce the likelihood of them suffering from depression, anxiety and PTSD.

You get the opportunity to talk about the things important to you, while being part of a wider campaign bringing together social media influencers, government, national media and influential organisations such as the Red Cross, Met Office and Fire and Rescue services – potentially reaching all their social media followers too.

#JustOneThing could make a big difference to young people’s lives. We’d really love you to be part of it.

Contact information:

If you have any questions at all, please contact laura.gottelier@environment-agency.gov.uk 07771 387707 or suzanne.hamblin-boone@environment-agency.gov.uk 07818 511399

COMPAREX Guest Blog – Building modern workplaces for modern housing providers.  

The way we work has changed drastically in recent years. All organisations, regardless of sector, are now dependent on technology to some degree – unsurprising, given how much digital technologies have impacted our lives both in and out of work. Housing providers in particular are among those beginning to employ digital transformation strategies, looking to both increase their organisation’s agility and also meet the evolving needs of an increasingly mobile workforce.

One survey from IWG found 70 per cent of employees work at least one day a week from a remote location; there is also increasing demand from workers for more access to mobile devices (including personal devices), and to platforms that promote greater collaboration. This provides an interesting conundrum for housing providers – while it is positive that employees want to connect with each other, how do you give them the tools they need to be productive whilst also remaining secure?

Creating a collaborative environment

Transforming the workplace to somewhere more digitally engaging is not just a nice to have, but it is a must have; utilising current technology is a factor when it comes to employee retention and attraction, as well as critical to employee productivity. As research from Citrix shows, 80 per cent of workers polled acknowledged the positive effect access to technology can have on helping them to work more efficiently.

With technology continuing to develop, application-driven experiences are now a daily part of people’s lives. Workers today are so used to the likes of Facebook and Google, which have created online environments full of applications, they want their workplaces to mirror this style. This has led to housing providers attempting to replicate this approach through purpose-built workplace applications that provide a secure and unified platform.

Workspace applications are designed to be completely user-friendly whilst also minimising the management burden on stretched IT teams. There are many benefits to application-based working in the housing sector, especially where the application can be contextualised to each user. Being able to instantly access web apps, files, and services from an all-in-one interface provides employees with the familiarity they crave and helps them remain productive. Additionally, it gives housing providers peace of mind by centralising access and control, whilst also ensuring security.

If you would like to discuss your modern workplace requirements further please contact  locgov@comparex.co.uk for further information.

Mental Health & Housing Summary

With NHS Mental Health Trusts facing unprecedented levels of pressure it’s unsurprising that many in the field are looking for new ways to respond to the challenges they face.  In this environment, it is becoming increasingly clear that housing is a key issue for their service users and that by integrating housing services and expertise into the care pathways, recovery outcomes could be improved.  To recognise this vision, the NHC and HACT brought professionals from both the housing and health sector together to help foster new partnerships.  Held in Leeds on the 17 October, the Mental Health and Housing Conference offered attendees the chance to hear from senior leaders in the NHS, explore new evidence, and attend workshops that explore the practical opportunities for working more closely between housing and health.

As part of the morning plenaries, attendees heard from Dr Paul Gilluley, Chief Medical Officer at NHS East London Foundation Trust (NELFT). As part of his presentation, Paul discussed the important role of community forensic services, the mental health services that support service users leaving secure units and moving back into the community.  Models differ throughout the country, but with a committed partnership between Look Ahead – an organisation providing support and accommodation to vulnerable people with a range of needs – NELFT, and the local authority, positive outcomes were being reported from Tabard Court.  Tabard Court is a specialist supported housing unit providing engagement, support, and enablement as part of a wider borough forensic pathway.  Staff are trained in relational security and specialist forensic issues and there is joint working with forensic mental health services.  The feedback has been welcoming, with Clinicians praising Tabard Court for it’s “intense support in a less restrictive environment than that offered by more traditional forms of care”.

Looking at mental health from a different angle, Peter Molyneux – Chair of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust – presented on the importance of workplace mental health. Workplace mental health is a key area in improving the attitudes of employers, the experience of employees, and the mental health of the overall population.  A recent Business in the Community report, “Seizing Momentum”, had indicated that all important indicators were heading in the right direction; 60% of employees feel their line manager is genuinely concerned for their wellbeing and 64% of managers put the interests of their organisation above staff wellbeing at some point.  Having said this, a lack of high-quality mental health training for line managers continues to be a pivotal issue.  Thriving at Work, the Government commissioned independent review of mental health and employers recommended that organisations be equipped with the awareness and tools to not only address but prevent mental ill health caused or worsened by work.  In concluding, Peter encouraged attendees to create environments that help everyone to perform well and promote bottom-up responses that give people the power to try different solutions as well as evaluate them.

Finally, Mark Trewin, Service Manager for Mental Health at Bradford Metropolitan District Council and NHS England’s Social Care and Social Work Advisor, presented on ‘building housing expertise within the NHS’.  As part of this, Mark underlined the importance of local authorities and social work.  Housing can for example reduce hospital admissions and help people live independently, it can support people out of acute care and act as an alternative to admission. Mark signposted attendees to the Local Government Association report ‘Being Mindful of Mental Health’ which outlines the role of local government in mental health and wellbeing. Similarly useful was HACT’s report ‘Housing and Health – Housing on the Pathway to Recovery’ which promoted an integrated “whole systems approach” to housing and Mental Health.   There were many ways to achieve this, whether by promoting joint health, social care, and housing budgets, or by developing training and support systems with shared policies and staff.



As business leaders we have a responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of ourselves and our colleagues is ever present in our plans.  With this in mind, the NHC and Thinking Success UK have designed two courses to support you to make mental health something continually considered while reducing the stigma of mental illness, enabling you to confidently and effectively give support those who need it.

Managing the Mental Wellbeing of Your Team will enable delegates to have an awareness of Mental health and understand the importance of looking after the mental health of themselves and their team members at work.  The course will also give insight into mental illness, the impact within business and how to successfully identify  signs of mental illness within individuals.

Mental Health within your Customers is aimed at anyone that deals with the public within their role, whether face to face or over the telephone.  The course will give delegates an awareness of mental health and mental illness and how this can drive behaviour within their customers and help them understand how to spot the signs of mental illness and how to manage the situations effectively to ensure wellbeing of customers while ensuring  business processes and completed correctly and they themselves stay confident and safe.

Rents for Social Housing from 2020-21

The government has published a consultation on its social housing rent policy from 2020.

The document reflects the government announcement in October 2017 of the intention to permit registered providers to increase their rents by up to CPI+1% each year, for a period of at least 5 years.

For the first time, the government intends to direct the Regulator to apply its rent standard to all registered providers – i.e. to both local authority registered providers and private registered providers.  Bringing local authority landlords within the scope of the RSH rent standard will respond to the roll out of Universal Credit.

The consultation also proposes changes to how “formula rent” is calculated and the rules around affordable rent – such as preventing social landlords from resetting annual rents by more than CPI+1% when re-letting a home to the existing tenant.

In its assessment of the impact of the new rent policy, the government states “Five policy options were considered ranging from permitting an annual increase of up to CPI+2% through to the continuation of the 1% rent reduction.  The preferred option is CPI+1%. This option is neutral in terms of delivery of affordable homes”.

The new policy will come into effect from 1 April 2020. It will not override landlords’ statutory obligation to complete the four year social rent reduction as required by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. Where a landlord has not completed the social rent reduction by 31 March 2020 (because its rent year begins after 1 April), it must complete the reduction before the applying the new policy.

The consultation available here closes on 8 November.  If you are responding to the consultation, it would be helpful  if you could provide us with a copy of your consultation response to help with our deliberations.

Have you considered pre-owned licences for your organisation?

ValueLicensing are pre-owned Microsoft licencing specialists based in the UK. We support both the Private and Public Sector to save up to 70% on their licensing requirements. For over nine years, 3,300 businesses throughout the UK and Europe have benefited from purchasing pre-owned licences from ValueLicensing, representing a total saving in excess of £20 Million. We have extensive knowledge of the niche market in which we operate.

The most important aspect in the procurement of pre-owned Microsoft software licences is our due diligence processes to verify that the licences are compliant with the EU Software Directive and SAM (Software Asset Management) audit requirements. Our Procurement team at ValueLicensing undertake this thorough due diligence process prior to each and every purchase. They handle all the complexities for our clients who are purchasing pre-owned licensing from us. Upon completion of an order, all customers will receive a “Software Licence Pack” containing all of the required documentation to prove legal ownership, providing peace of mind and compliance in the event of a SAM (Software Asset Management) audit.

When it comes to the public sector, ValueLicensing understands the need to source compliant software at a reduced cost. With budgets declining and software support expiring, it is vital to seek a solution when it comes to your organisations’ licensing requirements, now and in the future.

Appreciating that public sector organisations may run a number of essential legacy systems, we also provide support in locating specific types of Microsoft licences. We can assist you to develop systems whilst maintaining compatibility with legacy systems.

Derwent Living were recently supported by ValueLicensing to complete a purchase for a large quantity of pre-owned software licences. The case study demonstrates the simple process, solutions and benefits experienced by Derwent Living. Read the Case Study Derwent Living.

Andrew Meikle, Account Manager, Value Licencing

NHC consults with members on the social housing green paper

Along with the rest of the sector the Northern Housing Consortium had been anticipating the publication of a Social Housing Green Paper for some time.  So, when the document was finally released on 14th August, it was important for the NHC to bring members together and take full advantage of the opportunity to give detailed feedback to Government on what the Secretary of State described as a “landmark opportunity for major reform”.

Consultation Roundtables were arranged for each region of the North which drew around 50 attendees.  Karen Brown, Senior Policy Adviser at the Northern Housing Consortium provided an update on the Green Paper and highlighted that the door was now open for considerable debate on a range of issues – empowering residents and tackling stigma, resolving complaints and ensuring homes are safe and decent, through to expanding supply and development opportunities.

The evidence collected will be used as the basis of the NHC’s response to the Green Paper and members provided many points of discussion.  Organisations were keen to emphasise the work that is consistently completed to ensure homes are safe and to meet the Decent Homes Standard.  Overall the feeling was that health and safety regimes are robust; the issue at hand was more about ensuring consistency and clarity in the regulations which are currently complex and contradictory.    On mediation and resolving disputes, some members felt that, while there have been consistent improvements, that this is an opportunity to look at all good practice but that changes need to be proportionate and to manage expectations.   Considering the Government’s proposals on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to be published through League Tables, members felt that the implementation and use of a basket of measures would be most usefully linked to improvements measured through a structured plan so that outcomes were transparent for residents.  Some of the indicators proposed will be difficult to measure and a more nuanced and partnership approach may be required.  There was consensus that KPI’s would be affected by local circumstances and this would have to be sufficiently taken into account.

The meetings reflected the NHC’s earlier assertion that there is much in the detail that is welcome: the focus on decent homes, thriving communities and reversing the decline in council housing all of which reflect calls the NHC has been making for some time.  There are of course areas that may be of concern in the Green Paper and it will be interesting to see how the proposals on a new regulatory framework, the funding for supply of homes for social rent, and continued emphasis on home ownership are all evolved.

The Government has stated that it intends that the Green Paper will generate “a nationwide conversation on social housing”.   Through these roundtables and other engagement, the NHC is  working with politicians and civil servants to ensure a strong Northern voice is part of this conversation.  We would encourage our members to engage constructively in the debate that follows the Green Paper.